Guest Workers Who Sparked June Walmart Supplier Walk-out Hail Strike Wave’s Spread
New Orleans—The week after 500-some Walmart store workers walked off the job, the Black Friday escalation was hailed by this year’s original Walmart strikers: three guest worker leaders in Louisiana who, with five of their co-workers, struck against a seafood company they say had threatened to assault their families.
CJ’s worker activist Ana Rosa Diaz said seeing the strike wave spread to warehouse workers and retail employees “makes us very happy. Because that’s what we’re trying to do: Spread the word and create force. So it’s not just eight workers in a lost town in rural Louisiana that are challenging Walmart but it’s people from the farmer to the cashier, all the people working for Walmart. Here in the United States, and even in Mexico, because it’s the same there too.” (All three workers–Diaz, Martha Uvalle and Victor Manuel Ramos–were interviewed in Spanish, in an apartment outside New Orleans.)
As I’ve reported, the CJ’s workers alleged extreme abuses at the Walmart supplier, including management that threatened to beat workers with shovels and to have workers’ families attacked back in Mexico. Workers’ allegations of forced labor were affirmed by the Workers Rights Consortium, a DC-based international labor monitoring NGO. Workers organized with the National Guestworker Alliance and mounted a eight-person strike, after which Walmart–which had earlier said that it had investigated and been unable to substantiate the allegations–announced it had suspended CJ’s as a supplier. The workers since received rare visas based on being witnesses to serious crimes, and have spent recent months organizing other guest workers in Louisiana.
Reached over e-mail for comment about CJ’s Seafood, Walmart Director of National Media Relations Kory Lundberg said “CJ’s is still suspended as a supplier. That hasn’t changed since they were suspended earlier this year.” Walmart has been dismissive of the size and significance of the recent retail strikes.
“The more unity we have,” said Ramos, “the more work we can do.” Uvalle said she was delighted to see that the workers who struck on Black Friday “didn’t get tricked” by Walmart, “that they’re defending their rights. And they’re like us – we’re all in this struggle until Walmart listens and solves these problems.”
Uvalle recalled her surprise, and her satisfaction, when their strike drew national attention, and forced a Walmart response. She said that while individual actions may feel unimportant, “they give us the force to keep going.”
“I never imagined that I could do this,” said Uvalle. “I never imagined that we would do something that would become so big.” Diaz said the spread of Walmart strikes “wasn’t a surprise, but it was very satisfying. It shows us that we weren’t wrong in what we did.”
The CJ’s strikers expressed hope that worker resistance to Walmart would continue to grow. “If you start to think about everything they sell at Walmart,” said Diaz, “you think about how many workers it takes: they sell meat there, they sell clothes there, they sell shoes there…If you think about all the workers who make all of that, imagine! And apart from all of us who produce those things, there are the salespeople, the people who clean the store, the security guards. It’s an infinity of workers.”
Uvalle recalled an idea she and a few other CJ’s workers came up with one night while they were fasting outside the home of a Walmart board member in New York City: “We were hungry, we were tired, and we were thinking: What if we could invite all of the Walmart workers in the supply chain to do a one-hour strike? For one hour, that we all stop working, to see what it would mean to the Waltons, and to Walmart, not to have any labor at all.”
Low-wage workers are refusing to back down to corporate behemoths. Check out The Nation editors on “The Walmart Rebellion” and what it means for the future of the U.S. labor movement.